A local salesman I bumped into while I was shopping for sweets, I mean groceries, looked up the aisle, then over his right shoulder, then over his left and only then, when he knew the coast was clear, he whispered an opinion with as much conviction as a whisper can carry.
“They need to lose in the conference tournament,” he said.
“KU needs to lose in the conference tournament,” he repeated. “You win that thing and you’re too tired to do anything in the tournament. They need to lose.”
I headed up the aisle and he left the store, perhaps heading to confession to beg forgiveness for his sacrilegious tongue.
It’s the time of year when minds begin searching for March Madness patterns. I never really thought much of that theory. After all, to win a Big 12 conference tournament requires a team to be playing good enough basketball to win three games in three days, an indication of peaking at the right time. But the whisperer seemed so convinced of the importance of KU losing in the Sprint Center that I decided to see if numbers back him up.
Well, as it turns out, it doesn’t make much of a difference, but the slight variation in numbers actually indicates winning the conference tournament is a better predictor of success the rest of the way.
Under coach Bill Self, Kansas is 13-4 with a national title in the five seasons it won the conference tourney. It is 10-4 with a national runner-up finish in the other four years.
Self alluded to one common denominator shared by most teams that win it all: They go through a rough stretch during the regular season.
“It seems like it’s always that way and it toughens them and it hardens them and that kind of stuff,” Self said. “Nobody likes going through the stuff, but there’s only a certain point in time in a season when you become a team and we’ve just become a team here in the last three or four weeks.”
KU’s 1988 underdogs that won the national title lost four in a row to fall to 12-8. Self’s 2008 national champs went 37-3. The losses came in a seven-game stretch, including 2 of 3 at the end. Breaking from a three-game losing streak midway through the Big 12 season, Kansas seeks its eighth consecutive victory today at 5 p.m. against Baylor in Waco. Interesting. Very interesting.